Vladimir Coufal interview: West Ham are stronger without Declan Rice after transfer success | OneFootball

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Evening Standard

·21 September 2023

Vladimir Coufal interview: West Ham are stronger without Declan Rice after transfer success

Article image:Vladimir Coufal interview: West Ham are stronger without Declan Rice after transfer success


or Vladimir Coufal, the lead-up to the Europa Conference League final was the most nervous he has ever been, and the elation after the final whistle the happiest.

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That emotional rollercoaster was shared by all West Ham fans, as well as every player on the pitch in Prague. It is little wonder that Coufal and West Ham have set their sights on another European run and winning the Europa League this season.

The Hammers host Serbian side TSC Backa Topola in their opening group game on Thursday night, and there is a feeling that their memories of Prague, of lifting the club’s first major trophy in 43 years, will power them through their latest European campaign.

Coufal remains fiercely proud of his European medal three months on, but also humbled by quite how much it means to West Ham supporters.

“A trophy after how long? I still meet people in coffee shops who come up and thank me for what we did in Prague,” Coufal tells Standard Sport. “I love the culture of football here, because people are obsessed. When you win a trophy for the fans, you are almost God to them.

“That moment on the podium, when you can kiss the trophy, was an unbelievable feeling. After the game, we had a celebration with all the people in the club. The club arranged a family hotel for celebrations. Then we [the players] went to the city and I think we all really enjoyed it. I came back to the hotel at 8am, but I still couldn’t sleep.”

Recalling Manchester City’s celebrations after they won the Champions League, Coufal’s defence for staying up so late is short and sweet. “Look at Jack Grealish!” he says. “He enjoyed it as well! I was really tired. I took a short nap on the bus and the plane.

“I didn’t know what to expect from the bus parade. When I won the Czech title, I was a bit disappointed with the number of people. But when we came to Stratford, my mind was refreshed. I’d had no sleep, but it boosted my energy when I saw all those people. I slept 20 hours that night.”

Hammers boss David Moyes has spoken about wanting to create another “magic feeling” in Europe this season, and Coufal is optimistic of another good run.

West Ham reached the semi-final of the Europa League two seasons ago and have been drawn in a group with Olympiacos, Freiburg and Thursday’s opponents, who are top of the Serbian league.

“I am quite confident,” says the 31-year-old, who is out of contract next summer but “would probably sign it” if he was offered an extension by the club.

West Ham, of course, begin this Euro campaign without Declan Rice, the man who lifted the trophy in Prague, but Coufal believes the club’s transfer business means they “are not weaker without Dec, we are stronger”.

“I love our signings,” he says. “We knew what to expect from James Ward-Prowse, but I didn’t expect what he has done so far. He has two goals and three assists — it’s absolutely amazing. I didn’t see him score so much at Southampton.

“And [Mohammed] Kudus is a gifted player who has almost everything: power, strength, technique, skill. I don’t know his main position. We had to split responsibilities to every player, because Dec took responsibility for everything. I love the way we play now.

“Two years ago, we went to the Europa League semi-final and were beaten by Frankfurt. In that moment I thought it was my last chance to get to a European final. But we got to one last year and we can get there this year. Why not?”

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